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FM 18-5: Organization and Tactics of Tank Destroyer Units
Tank Destroyer Field Manual, War Department, June 16, 1942
[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from a WWII U.S. War Department Field Manual. As with all field manuals, the text may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the contents of the field manual. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


Section I

• 1. NATURE OF ARMORED COMBAT.—a. The combat employment of tank destroyer units against armored forces demands of all ranks a comprehensive knowledge of the capabilities of tanks and of tank tactics. This chapter presents portions of this necessary knowledge. Further detailed information will be found in FM 17-10, FM 17-20, TM 30-450, and TM 30-480.

b. Armored combat is characterized by great mobility, fire power, armor protection, and shock action. Primarily offensive in character, this highly mobile warfare is conducted by powerful self-sustained units composed of specially equipped troops of the necessary arms and services, acting in close cooperation with combat aviation and other ground troops.

• 2. ARMORED FORCES.—a. Armored forces consist of motorized combat vehicles of various types, tank elements, and such appropriate elements of the arms and services as are required to form a balanced combat team. Large armored forces, such as divisions and corps, are capable of dealing with most combat situations. Special task forces combining suitable proportions of the different arms with armored forces are formed for the accomplishment of special missions.

b. Armored forces are primarily organized, trained, and equipped for offensive operations against vital objectives deep in the hostile rear. They aim at the quick seizure of critical areas, the destruction of rear installations, and the prevention of movements by reserves. Their objectives may be reached by envelopments, penetrations, or turning movements.

c. Armored forces are particularly well suited to conduct a pursuit.

d. The conditions which should exist or be created for their successful action are air superiority in the decisive area of employment, surprise, favorable terrain, and the absence or neutralization of massed defensive means.

e. The reconnaissance element of an armored force provides the commander with the necessary information upon which his plan of action is based. It is composed of a large proportion of lightly armored vehicles, well equipped with radio, and smaller elements of light tanks, artillery, engineers, and infantry. Occasionally medium tanks are included. Motorcycles are used for messenger service, marking of routes, and traffic control. Observation aviation closely cooperates with the reconnaissance echelon.

f. The tank echelon of an armored force is its most powerful unit; it provides its main, striking force. The success of a tank attack, once launched, depends upon the neutralization of the enemy antitank defenses. All arms support the attack to this end.

g. The infantry echelon of an armored force directly aids tank units in capturing ground initially denied to tank operations by enemy antitank installations. It attacks antitank guns. It drives enemy covering forces from defended tank obstacles, thus permitting their removal or destruction. It assists in the exploitation of a penetration. Infantry takes over, consolidates, and holds ground gained by tank operations. It protects the reorganization of tank units.

h. The artillery echelon of an armored force gives timely maximum fire support to the tank attack. Mobile armored forward observation posts are often utilized to observe fire. A portion of the artillery, equipped with armored self-propelled mounts, accompanies the tank attack. This assault artillery, using direct laying, seeks to neutralize located hostile antitank guns.

i. Combat aviation prepares and supports the tank attack by demoralizing ground forces, neutralizing antitank guns, and by preventing the movement of reserve units.

j. Engineer units of the armored force assist the advance and attack of the tank echelon by the removal and reduction of artificial obstacles and by the preparation of crossings over natural obstacles.

• 3. CHARACTERISTICS OF ARMORED FORCE MATÉRIEL.—a. Tanks.—(1) The tank is the backbone of armored forces. These powerful, track-laying, automotive vehicles possess great fire power, both in small arms automatic weapons and in cannon; are capable of speeds of from 25 to 50 miles per hour on good roads; and may move in large masses cross country at speeds of 15 miles per hour and more. Tanks possess the ability to overrun and crush matériel and emplacements.

(2) The accuracy of fire delivered from moving tanks is considerably less than that of stationary firing.

(3) The mobility of tanks is materially effected by terrain and climatic conditions. Fog, dust, and smoke will retard speeds, particularly when it is necessary to drive with ports closed. Mud, heavy snow, marshy ground, large obstacles, dense woods, and various types of artificial installations will slow down operations. Extremely hot weather is very enervating to tank personnel; extremely low temperatures cause great difficulty in mechanical operation.

(4) All tanks are designed to give the maximum armored protection to the front of the vehicle. Heavy armor usually is not used on the sides and rear in order to avoid excessive weight. Sloping armor gives much greater protection than surfaces which permit normal impact of armor-piercing ammunition; it is difficult to obtain sloping surfaces along the sides of the tank. These conditions render most tanks far more vulnerable to fire delivered from the flank or from the rear.

(5) Tracks, drive sprockets, vision slits, periscopes, gun ports, the belly, and the junction of the turret with the hull of the tank are all more or less vulnerable to the effect of fire.

b. Armored cars.—These vehicles form a large proportion of reconnaissance elements; they are used as personnel and ammunition carriers, as command vehicles, and as armored mobile artillery observation posts. Armored cars also are used as self-propelled mounts for light caliber antitank and antiaircraft weapons. They may be armed with caliber .30 or heavier machine guns and may carry radio equipment.

c. Half-track vehicles.—Half-track vehicles combine some of the advantages of track-laying vehicles with those of wheeled vehicles. Road speeds up to 45 miles an hour are feasible, and cross country mobility is very good. This type of vehicle is contained in several different armies; its uses range from carrying personnel to providing mounts for medium artillery.


• 4. GENERAL.—Tanks attain their greatest power when employed in mass. All echelons of the armored force give all possible assistance to the attack of its main striking force, the tank element.

• 5. SURPRISE.—The greatest adjunct to successful tank attack is surprise, gained through secrecy, rapid maneuver, or deception. Tanks initially may be held in concealed positions, well back from the area of combat, and brought to assault positions under cover of darkness. When conditions are favorable, the movement from rear areas may be made in daylight hours and conducted at maximum speed. The attack is then launched with a minimum of delay, so as to strike before hostile forces have opportunity to readjust their dispositions.

• 6. ATTACK.—a. General.—(1) Objectives of tank attacks are usually deep in the hostile rear; in moving on such objectives, tanks seek to avoid engagement against strongly organized defenses. When required to break through hostile dispositions, their attack is massed initially on a narrow front; it is extended promptly in width and depth when exploitation is begun following penetration of the hostile position. "Soft spot" tactics characterize tank action during the attack; leading elements often pass by defended localities, leaving them to be reduced later by other troops which attack from flank and rear.

(2) Prior to launching an attack, strong reconnaissance elements feel out hostile dispositions to locate weak points; the main attack is usually concentrated against one of these.

(3) The time and direction of a tank attack may be based upon climatic conditions. Attack at dawn, or early daylight, is favored when a secret night movement to a concealed' assault position can be effected. In desert warfare great advantage is gained in attacking from the direction of the sun, early or late in the day. Except when attacking with infantry or in very open terrain, tanks are likely to use some feature to maintain direction. Tank attacks are often directed with a main road as the axis.

(4) In massed attacks against organized resistance, tanks usually attack in two or three echelons. The first echelon may be charged with rapidly overrunning the antitank guns and artillery of the defense and then exploiting. The second may follow the first to extend or deepen exploitation; in some cases It may be employed to help the infantry overcome hostile defenses. The third echelon usually constitutes a reserve; elements assist at times in mopping-up operations.

(5) Tank attacks are assisted by air action and the fire of infantry and artillery weapons. Special attention is usually given the flanks of the attack, which are protected by powerful concentrations. The use of smoke is likely in rear areas.

b. Fire and movement.—Attacking tanks advance by a combination of fire and movement. The leading waves are charged with the destruction of located antitank weapons. Throughout all echelons overwatching tanks cover by fire the advance of maneuvering tanks. Located antitank weapons are subjected to fire from tanks in the leading wave, from covering tanks, and from assault artillery which follows the attack closely. Fire of tanks against antitank guns will often be from machine guns rather than cannon; it is usually easier to destroy the crew than the gun. Tanks coming under fire of antitank weapons may either move quickly to hull defiladed positions and open fire from a stationary position, or if cover is not available, move toward the gun with the purpose of overrunning it. Smoke may be used to blind the antitank gun.

c. Contact.—Contact with friendly units operating on the enemy flanks is disregarded, the tank attack being pushed as hard and as fast as possible.

d. Exploitation.—When the rear of the hostile position has been gained, attacking tanks fan out and proceed to disrupt lines of communication and supply, to destroy artillery positions, command posts, and communication centers, and to overrun reserves.

e. Reorganization.—Control of large masses of tanks, once an attack has been launched, is extremely difficult. Brief halts for reorganization and refueling may be necessary; at such times tanks are extremely vulnerable. Infantry and tank destroyer units following the attack protect tank units during this period.

• 7. VARIATIONS IN TANK TACTICS.—While the foregoing indicates the general nature of tank action, experience during the current war has clearly indicated the fallacy of preconceived convictions as to the employment of tanks. Novel and unexpected methods have been completely successful in many instances. Commanders who have based their actions upon the belief that hostile tanks would attack in a commonplace, orthodox manner have frequently met disaster.

• 8. OBSTACLES.—In both Belgium and France in 1940, German tank units broke through very heavy artificial obstacles and forced river crossings rapidly. In the Balkans in 1941, difficult mountain passes were negotiated by German tanks in spite, of strong resistance. In Malaya in 1942, Japanese tankettes achieved surprise by crossing flooded rice fields that were believed to be impassable. The placing of undue reliance on passive protection afforded by large streams, dense woods, and other natural and artificial obstacles has frequently proved to be a fatal error.

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